I’ve always had a fear of flying, and I would plan my travel around it, avoiding it altogether. In 2016 I took a train across the country, and while it was something I always wanted to do the main motivator was avoiding flying. Even if I was also totally into the idea of watching the landscapes pass me by in real time, from ground level, I really didn’t want to fly. So much so, that I took nearly three days to get to my destination in Washington and four to get back, because in addition to putting my feet in the Pacific Ocean before I turned 40 later that year, I also wanted to put them in California, and that meant that on my way home I took an extra train from Portland down to Sacramento so that I could do that, and take a different route back home to see more of the country.

I’d flown a couple times. The first time was in 2003 on a little guy that fit three of us, which took me over Ocracoke and Portsmouth Islands. I shot four rolls of film in that half an hour and it was a perfect way to distract myself from spending every minute thinking it was going to crash into the ocean. It was beautiful up there, looking down on the delicate barrier island landscape that continues to survive the most intense and wicked storms. All the patterns carved by the little creeks and inlets were like veins pulsing through the sand and vegetation, flowing from sound to sea and from up there I could see it all.

My second time in a plane was a large, commercial flight a few years later and took me to Chicago. It was dark when we took off and I had the company of a lovely friend to keep me distracted. Our return flight was a beautiful, bright day and taking off over Lake Michigan was kind of intense, but I survived that flight as well, even if I still hadn’t been sold on making a habit out of it.

After another decade or so, in 2018, I went to Mexico, and while it wasn’t a very long or eventful flight, I felt a shift during the flight home. The flight there was intense and I actually cried during take-off. Not because I was that scared, but my mother had just passed away six months earlier and I’ve since realized that I do this every time I’m taking off in a plane. For some reason, the feeling triggers a release in me and the timing of that take off to Mexico I really needed one. The return flight I spent the entire time with my head glued to the window, watching the blue waters of the Gulf passing beneath me. I just couldn’t look away.

The tip of an airplane wing peaking out while flying over cancun.
Leaving Cancun – January 2018 – iphone photo

I apparently felt confident enough in the experiences I had with others at the helm to plan a trip myself so in February 2020, my boys and I would fly to California, enjoying a fantastic trip with gorgeous weather that would be just what we didn’t know we would need to carry us through the rest of a truly challenging year. Both of my kids had been in planes and actually had their first flights when they were just toddlers, around 3 years old I think, and one would go on to take a few lessons when he got older. So while this wasn’t a totally new thing, neither had been on a commercial flight before so they may have been a big motivator in my continued fear-facing. When we took off to come home, it was still light out, though the sun was just beginning to make its descent, and what a gorgeous sight to watch from above. The desert we had just spent time getting to know at ground level passing beneath us as the deep oranges of the sunset blanketed the landscapes before being taken over by the deep blue darkness.

Clouds turning pink and orange at sunset, the tip of an airplane wing is just visible on the edge.
Sunset after taking off from LAX – February 2020 – iphone photo

Again and again, I fell in love with viewing these beautiful landscapes from high above as this feeling of awe seemed to suffocate my fears. And just last month, after a busy shooting season I took advantage of some super cheap fares and flew out to California to explore the central coast. Again, a window seat found me ignoring my book, my writing, and the knitting project I brought in lieu of watching the country pass by below. Changing from squares of midwestern farmland to the open earth-toned deserts to rugged mountains until we finally reached the west coast.

I might still have little internal freak outs during moments of turbulence, but I’m pretty smitten with the view and it makes it worth every bit of anxiety that I have to work through to do it. Only took me 40some years!